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Artists Present Recap | Imagine multiple identities and possibilities

Apr 4, 2022

Editor / Monica

Editor's note

In the Critique section of the Member Day held in March, CAAN took the concept of "performance art" as its theme, focusing on the "Eternal Link" by young artist Yucen Yao and the cross-media series of works by Yumeng Zhang.

The audience had active and friendly discussions around the works, expressed their opinions, and conducted more extensive and in-depth analyses from multiple perspectives. Here, we also want to emphasize that there is no right or wrong, superior or inferior to the judgment of works, but the artist and the audience jointly initiate discussions on the creative process and seek answers from the works themselves.

The following are notes from our discussions at this Critique event.


Host / Wanyue An (An)

Speaker / Audience (Q)


Yucen Yao / Cenzi / 姚钰岑 / 岑子

Cenzi is a graphic designer and illustrator, graduated from the Department of Design and Communication of Guangzhou University with a bachelor's degree, worked as a graphic designer in a well-known design studio in China, and am about to study as a graduate student in graphic design at the California Institute of the Arts.

Red Book @岑子爱喝水

Behance/Youtube/ins @yucenyao


Cen Zi: When I was working on the project "Invisibleline", I graduated from university and came to work in Shenzhen. I didn't see my mother for about 10 months. My hometown is Nanchang, I went to school in Guangzhou and then worked in Shenzhen. I have always been far away from her. During this period, my mother will send me some household items, as if she is always by my side. I collected all the courier boxes she sent, which was just around the corner of Thanksgiving, and I hoped to express my gratitude to my mother and the emotional connection between the two of us through this work.

I did a mixed-material painting first. I cut out the express boxes, and used paint to rub the express items, such as fruit, soy sauce, milk, etc., onto these boxes, indicating that these things were contained in them. This light represents the city lights at night. Shenzhen is a city with lights on forever. The slipper print on it represents the road I have traveled, and I have been wearing these shoes from Nanchang to Guangzhou to school and then to Shenzhen. After that, I took the painting to the pick-up location where I usually go to to shoot. The couriers surrounded me with a warm feeling like I was back in my mother's womb.

After doing this, I started from a graphic design perspective and post-processed these photos into postcards. Pink is the color of my mother's home clothes. She also likes rose red very much, so I used this color; these two emojis are what she likes to send when chatting with me; the squares in this postcard on behalf of express, this arrow represents our connection. When I was done, I sent the postcard to my mom to pass on this thank you.

The title of the work "Eternal Link" is to express that no matter how far apart my mother and I are, our hearts are very close. This project is a cycle from beginning to end, and possibly a performance art to a certain extent. The performance art I understand doesn't necessarily have to be naked, and it doesn't have to discuss or criticize current events. Small details like mine can also become a form of performance art.


Q: I am very interested in the writing on the express packaging, will these inks disappear eventually?

Cen Zi: It will be after a while. By the time I created the work, I had been collecting these express boxes for two or three months, but the ink had not disappeared in such a short time.

Q: Why did you choose to display the express box instead of the items inside?

Cen Zi: I think the address of the recipient is written on the express box, which is a more intuitive expression. It also takes into account that express delivery is often associated with the concept of "consumption".

Q: I don't think showing the express box is intuitive, but more obscure. I think the courier box is a form of public transportation and doesn't intuitively represent your closeness to your mother. As a viewer, I'm more concerned with the specific items your mother sent you, such as quilts, clothes, or food items, which are more intuitive to me. But in the opposite direction, choosing to display the more obscure expression of the express box can also be interpreted as you deliberately do not want the public to know the private content inside. So who do you think your audience is?

Cen Zi: I presume that the audience is a group of "international students" who go to school outside or have a certain distance from their relatives, like me, to resonate with them and let them know that their family cares about them all the time.

Q: The act of collecting express boxes reminds me of artist Song Dong's installation work "Making the Best Use of Things". Song Dong's mother has a hobby of collecting daily sundries. After her mother's death, Song Dong sorted all the things she collected into categories and displayed them at the exhibition site.

Making the Best Use of Things, Dong Song,2014

©️ Today Art Museum

Making the Best Use of Things, Dong Song,2012

©️ BBC News

For me, the courier bill is also equivalent to a record in time and space. This work is based on these items that your mother sent you, and you convert it into your own work through artistic expression, and then send it to your mother in the form of a postcard. If this is regarded as a cycle, then the work itself also has a cycle between time and space.

It would also be interesting to record the process of slowly blurring out the handwriting of the courier bill over the years.

Cen Zi: Yes, except for the collection of materials in the early stage, the creation process of this work is actually in a fast speed, so more mature thinking is needed in the later stage.

An: It doesn't matter. Many works are improved and improved through constant negation and experimentation. Do you have any questions for the audience?

Cen Zi: I would like to discuss with you the relationship between performance art and audience, considering that performance art is often regarded as obscure and difficult to understand. After listening to Mr. He Yunchang's sharing before, I also asked him a similar question - as a performance artist, should you consider the audience's feedback when making works? I remember him saying at the time that as an artist, you shouldn't think so much, it's more about expressing your own ideas, and the audience's ideas are not so important. I would like to ask everyone's thoughts on this?

Q: I think doing performance art—or any other art—whether or not to think about the audience depends on what exactly you are going to do as an artist. If what you do is very personal and from your own perspective, then I don't think you need to think about your audience. But if you create something that combines political or social issues, then you have to consider what your audience is, and at this time it will also involve a wider audience, their race, nationality, cultural affiliation...

Q: Another point: what kind of impact do you want to have on the audience? I understand that as an artist, you cannot "control" your audience, and you cannot master their thoughts, but you still have to think before you make a work. What do you want the audience to think after watching the work; Put yourself in the role of the audience. The creation of many art is to have a connection with the world, and it is through the works to establish a connection with the audience. To be an artist, to speak with the works, to talk to the audience, and the audience can also understand the artist's thoughts and will through the works.

So back to your work, you choose to place it in a public space such as the express mail room, and visually show the connection with other express delivery in the background. I feel that it is not only a personal expression, Not just a connection between you and your mother, but probably more of a connection between a family and consumption. For me, the focus of this work is not particularly prominent at the moment.

Q: Wouldn't it be better if it was made into an installation? Reminds me of Félix González-Torres' "Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.)", where the artist placed a pile of candies equal to his same-sex partner's healthy weight in the corner of the exhibition hall, inviting the audience to taste them at will .

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, "Untitled" (Portrait of Ross in L.A.), Candies individually wrapped in multicolor cellophane, endless supply, 1991 © The Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation.

Q: In your work, the cycle of receiving couriers and sending out postcards also reminds me of the art form of mail art. Around the 1960s and 1970s, the original intention of this art movement was to challenge the authority and class nature of the traditional exhibition model and the art system and to attach importance to the exchange of ideas and the equal cooperation of the art community. Although mail art is not strictly performance art, I think it broadens the concept of "performance". Although it is not the same as your original intention, you can learn how they think about the so-called "behavior" and the connection with time, space, and location.

Július Koller, "NO ART!" 1970 © The estate of Július Koller; photograph by Květoslava Fulierová

Q: Will you continue to create work like this?

Cenzi: Probably not. This was my momentary thought at the time, without thinking about how it would develop in the future. Today's sharing is mainly to hear everyone's suggestions on this work, and I also learn from experience to lay the foundation for a more complete creation next time.

An: It's a good starting point, and you're focusing on a topic that resonates well. I think you could dig a little more about the story between you and your mother or from a courier package. If you want your work to be very personal, you must have a very personal, strong emotion and way of presentation to be more moving.

Q: Perhaps to a certain extent, it can be said that art is either absolutely rational or absolutely emotional.


Yumeng Zhang / 张雨萌

Yumeng Zhang (b. 1996), born in Hebei, China. Graduated from Tianjin Academy of Fine Arts (TAFA) with a Bachelor's degree in Comprehensive Painting, In 2021, she graduated from Claremont Graduate University. Working and living in Beijing and Los Angeles. The creations of work include photography, painting, video, installation, body, performance, and other media, From the perspective of personal experience, she narrates and discusses the influence of current social changes on the transformation of personal identity in an autobiographical way.

Instagram @artist_yumengzhang


Yumeng: The project I’m working on recently can be said to be a collaboration between me and a friend who makes video. The content is based on my ideas and perspective, and the editing in the later stage is the creation of this friend. There are two parts: the first part is drawing on paper with my body, and the other part is pure physical exercise I do in the open field. This work is a relatively new experience for me. Although I have used the body to create before, I have not combined my body and painting like this.

A Frame from Performance Video, 2022

In the choice of materials, I was influenced by my mother, a makeup artist, and I often use cosmetics for painting and installation creations. Since I was very young, cosmetics have been the enlightenment of my understanding of beauty and color. The sticky texture and color have a deep influence on me.

I hope to use my work to explore the topic of female identity, and there are also personal reasons for it. I want to focus on this lipstick brush I have in my hand. When preparing the materials, I needed a rubber container to hold the melted lipstick and planned to use rubber gloves; but I didn't have the tools at the time, so I had no choice but to borrow a friend's condom instead. Finally, the lipstick solidifies to form a shape similar to the male reproductive organs. This is actually an interesting "good" accident for me, the shape of which is reminiscent of other related discussions such as gender relations. I will continue to do this series in the future, it is different from my usual pure painting feeling.

A Frame from Performance Video, 2022

Q: Your previous performance art was in outdoor public spaces, whether on the road, in the snow, or in the desert. In this work, you moved the entire performance into a closed indoor space. How do you view or explain such indoor and outdoor spaces?

Yumeng: I have been thinking about space. If I'm outdoors, the current environment affects me more. For example, the temperature of the snow, the different tactile sensations of touching the land, these will bring more intense feelings to my body. There will also be more uncontrollable and accidental outdoors. And I would feel that my personal connection to the land would be deeper. But if it's indoors, it depends more on whether there are viewers.

Exhale, 2022

Exhale, 2022

Q: I have observed that red is a theme or symbol throughout your works, but why did you not choose to continue to use red in the collaborative project just now?

Yumeng: Because I don't think red - or any other color - is particularly important in this work. In fact, the original plan was black, and I decided to wear black clothes at that time. I also painted a picture with black lipstick before, which was a very abstract shape of a human body. But something went wrong while preparing and I didn't have enough black lipstick pigment, so I added a little red. I can also accept the unexpected combination of this. There are many lipstick colors themselves, it is not limited to red.

At first many people will ask, why is there red in so many of my works?

For this question, there are different answers in my different works. For my early series, my interpretation of red was very personal and specific. For example, I used to do a work about family, and the interpretation of red is love, hatred, anxiety, and it is the color of sex. In the later works, the interpretation of red is that it is the color of life, the color of human blood, and the color that can drive my personal emotions and senses the most.

But in recent works, my interpretation of the relationship between different colors has also changed. For example, red and green, in Chinese context, red and green do not match very well, but at first in the series "Dumpling" I used green and red a lot, I just thought that these two colors together are absurd and strange, but also very visually striking. However, when I made the "Family Tree" series, I was very clear why I put these two colors together. In the context of this work, red and green are two colors with a strong sense of conflict and tension. color. I also made the colors very intense and bright in post.

Dumpling, Installation / Flour, Mix, 2019

In the process of making this work, I also did color-related research. In Western countries, the combination of red and green is reminiscent of Christmas; but in China, especially in ancient Chinese architecture, many combinations of red and green are actually used. Not everyone can use these two colors, they are very classy. But in the contemporary context, green protective mesh may represent the ecological environment, just under the so-called environmental protection, green is an ironic color.

《家谱树》系列 摄影

Q: You choose to use makeup, especially lipstick, as a color material, which I find very interesting. You find your own entry point, your own identity, in these materials. At the same time, many people also believe that red is a symbol of cultural identity, with a special connection to the concept of China. And lipstick can also be linked to the consumer society, various shades, different reds of various people, which can also be extended.

Yumeng: I also have some paintings made of liquid foundation. I think the source of these creations can be traced back to my personal understanding and connection with the body, because whether it is liquid foundation, lipstick, or blood, it is all related to the removal of the body.

“Take Me to the Desert” oil on canvas, 30*30

Q: Red and green were also the colors of wedding dresses in the Ming Dynasty. Some dynasties will be male red and female green, but some dynasties will be reversed. I think this is also more interesting, the connection between color and gender.

Yumeng: Yes, the relationship and conversion of gender and color. Color is always symbolic, but its meaning is different in different dynasties.

Q: I love painting this symbol with the body. Would you present a drawing on paper as a work? Will this painting be a result?

Yumeng: Yes, it will be a result. I wanted to present it as a separate work. I didn't use the whole body before, and I drew it with my hands and it felt quite similar to this one, but in this work I added more elements of using the body.

Let's go back to the work "Dumpling", the custom in the north is that no matter any festival, most women in the family should sit together to make dumplings. I was very opposed to this when I was younger, I don't understand why women are the only ones sitting around doing this kind of physical labor? So physical labor is also reflected in the work. I asked myself to make hundreds of dumplings in one day, which was very urgent and intense. I want to amplify this kind of labor, so that the intensity of doing it will be greater.

Q: Can you share how you developed your own creative theme?

Yumeng: At the beginning of the creation, I did not give myself a specific theme for the creation, but later I slowly reduced the work to certain themes. As to whether I am doing something "feminism", or whether I'm a feminist, I actually didn't have any of these concepts at first. I did it completely based on my own very real emotions, from emotions and feelings; including some paintings, they are actually very subconscious things. I don't set a boundary for myself - I'm going to paint a subject like this, or what I'm going to be specific about. It grows out of my body naturally, it's my own personal way of creating it.

Q: Growing out of the body feels a bit like those thorns you drew.

Yumeng: Yes. When I did it before, those branches would remind many people of blood, blood vessels. But in fact, when I did it, I didn't think about what kind of presentation result I would have, and I didn't have a specific expectation.


Q: So your works are all based on subjective ideas first, and then explain the final presentation results?

Yumeng: You can say the same. But I think the timing of each piece's creation, and its impact on you, are in a very uncertain state. For example, the idea of ​​using cosmetics has been in my subconscious for a long time. I may suddenly find it one day and it can be a clue to me, then I can continue to expand and go deeper by following this clue. Recently, I realize more and more that environment and experience are very important for artists, so I am not sure what I will continue to do for a long time in the future, and I do not want to set such a limit for myself.

When I was creating, I wondered why I use makeup and why I want "women to be pleasing to oneself". But because the previous works are very personal, I did not raise or expand it to a social or historical level, but I should continue to work on this project in the future.

For the project "Touch", I used my pinky finger to make a lipstick, the original model in this series of photos was me, and then I used different women models, each of whom was wearing different color of lipstick. During filming, I learned about the stories and life experiences of each of them. At that time, I felt that the work I did was not limited to myself, it expanded to reach more groups. At that time, I had a deeper understanding and feeling of the material, and I felt that the energy contained in it was also greater, so I thought it was a more meaningful thing.

“Touch” Installation / Sculpture,2018-2021

Q: What will you do next?

Yumeng: Next, I just want to paint. In the near future, I want to combine painting and performance art. Recently, I feel that I have found a lot of comfortable states in painting, so I may return to painting more in the future.


Starting from their own experience, the two artists pay attention to the relationship between the formation of personal identity and the family, social environment, and cultural context in the dimension of space and time. Through their own works, they imagine the multiple identities of artists with unique perspectives and creative methods and think about the multiple possibilities of performance art.

Please continue to keep attention to CAAN, and look forward to the details of the members' day activities and more original content!

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